Structurally, BIPOC-led nonprofits have less access to resources to spend on marketing than white-led organizations.
When I launched Catharsis, I was mostly excited. I felt very plainly that I was on the right path to finding the best way to offer up my knowledge in skills in a mission-driven context, while staying true to my values and prioritizing my well being. As I planned for this next career step, an important consideration came to mind:
“Great. Another white woman consultant in the nonprofit sector. Just what we need.”
Sarcasm aside, I thought long and hard about what it means to launch a white-led consultancy in a sector, already saturated with white consultants, that continues to undermine the expertise of people of color. I definitely did not want to compete against consultants of color for business. Now, when a nonprofit client opts to work with a consultant who has better aligned lived experience over Catharsis, I celebrate that decision. It truly is the best decision for the organization.
I’m not looking to wield my privilege, I’m looking to deconstruct it.
So, as part of the process of deconstructing my privilege, I read literature on reparations, and how we can think about them in the nonprofit sector. It goes like this:
White, European settler colonialists committed genocide against native folks and stole their land.
On stolen land, they amassed massive amounts of wealth the using stolen labor of Black African slaves.
This created an inequitable country with systems that privileges white people of European descent in every possible way.
(Not to mention exploiting the natural world in the process).
Thus, us white folks owe Black and Native folks reparations for the damage we caused (and continue to cause) over hundreds of years.
Layer the nonprofit sector onto this picture. Nonprofit law allows wealthy folks to evade taxes through charitable giving. Charitable giving can be to any “cause” a donor sees fit, as long as they have tax exempt status. (Some examples: the NRA, a Country Club, the Charles Koch Institute). So, not only did massive wealth accumulate, but it did not get invested back into public services the way our democracy had originally been designed. Today, more than $1 trillion in philanthropic dollars is sitting in foundation endowments and donor advised funds. And the assets of the nonprofit sector in the US is worth more than $6 trillion. In comparison, the US Department of Health and Human Services annual budget is $1.6 trillion.
So, I believe that us white folks in the nonprofit sector—actually all white folks—have the responsibility to give back. And by give back, I don’t mean “give back” in the fluffy, charity sense. I mean give back to compensate for the stolen land, stolen labor, and tax evasion that got us to this state of inequality in the first place.
I toyed with calling the discount to BIPOC-lead organizations “Reparations.” But that didn’t fit. Because let’s be clear: A 20% discount to organizations led by BIPOC folks is not enough. It is barely a drop in the ocean. It does not absolve anyone of anything. It does not make me a “good person” or Catharsis a “good” organization. It is a compromise between the right thing to do and running a viable business. More than anything, it is symbolic.
At best, it’s an acknowledgement of the history leading up to this point and the oppressive systems that continue to put BIPOC-led nonprofits at a disadvantage compared to their white-led peers.
So how is this playing out in the nonprofit sector today?
Well, for starters, a 2020 found that BIPOC-led organizations’ budgets were 24% lower than white-led organizations. And, only 15% of foundation giving is to social justice causes (This is older data from The Center for Effective Philanthropy). 73% of donors are white. Donors wield real power in the nonprofit sector, because they are able to restrict gifts. This means that they can give nonprofits money that they only have access to if a certain condition is met. It could be a certain program, a desired outcome, or even a staffing change. Oftentimes, nonprofits get into a bind where they are more accountable to donors than to the communities they work with. The same study found that white led organizations received 76% more unrestricted dollars than BIPOC-organizations. Knowing that most funders do not give money specifically for marketing consulting, most of Catharsis’ clients use unrestricted dollars to pay for my services. Thus, structurally, BIPOC-led nonprofits have less access to resources to spend on marketing than white-led organizations.
For more ways racism exists in the nonprofit sector, visit Catharsis’ Anti-racism Commitments page.
So here’s my ask to other white folks in the sector.
Whether you’re a nonprofit leader, staff member, board member, volunteer, consultant, or donor, anti-racism work is part of your job. Do it. Look within yourself, learn about your identity, family history, biases, assumptions, harmful behaviors, and how you can grow. Engage in books and other resources. Have conversations with other white people in your life. Go to that DEI training. Recognize the emotions these activities bring up for you to understand them. There are many resources that can help with this journey.
Here are some staples that have helped me immeasurably:
And more recently, here are some resources I’ve explored. They don’t necessarily have to do with the nonprofit sector, but they have shifted how I’m thinking about race, which I in turn apply to my work:
My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. This is a fantastic book with concrete ways to work on our bodies’ responses to racial dynamics.
Scene on Radio - Especially Seasons 2 & 5.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. There is a lot of amazing fiction that explores race. This book especially changed my perspective.
Nice Racism by Robin D’Angelo. This is a good read for progressive white folks who feel they’re doing what they can to be anti-racist.
If reading this article sparked ideas about other ways Catharsis can work towards racial justice, I want to hear them. As always, feel free to schedule a conversation with me.